The Supreme Court is poised to thumb down the petition filed against the United States government over the sinking of the USS Guardian that damaged the protected Tubbataha Reef in January 2014.
According to an unimpeachable source of The Manila Times, the high court magistrates are inclined to junk the petition for Writ of Kalikasan filed by a group of Catholic bishops, environmentalists, activists and lawyers last April.
SC Associate Justice Martin Villarama is the ponente in the said case or the one tasked to write the decision on the issue.
The source said the justices are of the view that the Philippines may not sue a foreign country because of immunity from suit.
The US ship was in the country in view of the existing Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Hence, the case has to be referred to the executive department who will make the claim for damages against the US government.
Malacañang, which was re–presented by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), has asked the SC to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.
“Claims processing under the VFA resides exclusively with the executive department,” the OSG stated.
The pleading made by Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza stressed that the SC should not issue the temporary environmental protection order on Tubbataha Reef sought by petitioners simply because the “USS Guardian incident is fait accompli [an irreversible situation].”
The executive department has pointed out that the USS Guardian “has the right of innocent passage” and that the VFA should not be made an issue.
In March 2010, the high court ruled with finality on the constitutionality of the VFA between the Philippine and US government.
The OSG also said that the petitioners “do not represent the inhabitants prejudiced by the environmental damage subject of the petition for Writ of Kalikasan.”
As such, the government lawyers said the SC maynot intervene in the process involving damages and claims against the US govenment over the incident.
It will be recalled that a multisectoral group sought the high court’s intervention to order the US government to have them criminally accountable for the damages caused on the World Heritage Site by the sinking of the US ship.
In its 90-page petition, the group asked the Court to determine the fine 12 times more than the initial estimate of the Philippine government of P58 million as well as the prosecution of officers of the USS Guardian that hit the Tubbataha Reef.
The petitioners include Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, Jr., Bishop-Emeritus Of Caloocan, Frances Quimpo, Teresita Perez, Rep. Raymond Palatino, Kabataan Party-List, Peter Gonzales of Pamalakaya, Giovanni Tapang, Agham, Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Joan May Salvador of Gabriela, diver Jose Erique Africa, Theresa Concepcion, Mary Joan Guan, Nestor Baguinon, public interest lawyer Edsel Tupaz, Clemente Bautista, Jr. of Kalikasan-Pne, Maria Carolina Araullo and Renato Reyes Jr. of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares of Bayan Muna Party-List, Roland Simbulan, Ph.D. and the Junk VFA Movement.